AS FAR AS rookie fourth-round picks go, Brandon Boykin had about as promising a start to an NFL career as possible through two games.
The slot cornerback was on the field for more than 60 percent of the defensive snaps in his debut in Cleveland, then was integral in shutting down Anquan Boldin in his second game against the Ravens.
But on Sunday in Arizona, he looked like a rookie. To be fair, the Eagles' defensive strategy did Boykin no favors. Larry Fitzgerald, Eagle killer and by far the Cardinals' biggest threat, lined up everywhere, including in the slot over Boykin. The Eagles decided to play Fitzgerald straight up, which occasionally meant leaving the rookie locked on a future Hall of Famer.
"It was my biggest challenge so far this season," Boykin said. "Going against someone like him as a rookie, in your third game, is a tough challenge. He is one of the best receivers in the game."
After being held in check for 2 weeks, Fitzgerald torched the Eagles. He racked up 105 yards and a touchdown on seven catches in the first half alone, allowing the Cardinals to milk the clock with the run game late.
Kevin Kolb completed all nine passes he threw Fitzgerald's way. He did damage all over the field, most notably splitting Nnamdi Asomugha and the Eagles safeties for a 37-yard touchdown in the second quarter. But the Cardinals seemed to pick on Boykin, via Fitzgerald and others, throughout the game.
"It definitely felt like when [Fitzgerald] was against me, he was their first target," Boykin said, adding that the Eagles knew the Cardinals would move him all over.
Boykin's struggles in the desert are no cause for alarm. They simply make him look human, or at least like every other NFL rookie: inconsistent. Sunday aside, the 5-9 Georgia Bulldog is still eons ahead of most of his fellow NFL freshmen.
Before the draft, Boykin was touted as an explosive athlete and a guy ready to play in the nickel right away, thanks to extensive experience playing the slot at Georgia. The decision to cut ties with nickel mainstay Joselio Hanson - originally deemed a gamble - now looks like a no-brainer.
"I think a big part of it is self-confidence," Boykin said. "Coming into a league where you've never played and you're unfamiliar, you really have to be confident in your ability to compete and learn."
Boykin seems to possess a healthy mix of bravado and self-awareness. He was humbled Sunday, by his own admission, but also pointed to the battles he won - against Fitzgerald and other receivers - as positives to build on.
"When you start off so good, the levels of expectation for you are through the roof. People might not really expect you to make mistakes, but it happens," Boykin said.
"I played pretty good the first 2 weeks, but there was still room from improvement. I'm not going to be able to defend every pass. As a defensive back, I have to have a short memory."
As much as he may want to forget Sunday, Boykin knows he cannot. Once any defensive weakness is exposed, you can bet the next opponent will try to exploit it. On Sunday night, Boykin and the Eagles face a deep group of talented Giants receivers.
"Teams watch the tape and try to pick up your weaknesses," he said. "But just like they're watching it every week, I'm watching it, as well trying to correct those mistakes."
Boykin also was expected to provide a spark to the kick-return game. The results have been mixed - he has averaged only 22.9 yards per attempt. But just as he seized the slot job, Boykin is sure he is the answer to a return unit that has been punchless for years.
"I know I can be," Boykin said. "Often, you're not going to have a ton of success right off the bat, even though a lot people would like for it to happen. With my athletic ability, along with my teammates, I know they have high expectations for me."